This is Rule 2 in the 5 Practices for Simple Living. For me, this is as vital as eating, sleeping, and taking my medication. When I don’t do those things, bad stuff begins to happen. The longer I go without them, the worse it gets. Doing them on a regular schedule, as part of the routine of my life, works better than doing them haphazardly. Doing them when the opportunity presents itself, even if it’s inconvenient and not according to the plan, is better than not doing them at all.
I’m defining meditation rather broadly here. It’s more than what most people think it to be. These are practices meant to keep me calm and focused. It’s all about increasing my awareness and cultivating an attention span. When productivity wonks talk about flow state and doing deep work, to me that all falls within the realm of meditation practice.
When you ask most people about meditation, this is what they think of. Sitting quietly, maybe with your eyes closed, possibly repeating a mantra. There are many variations on sitting meditation, from the way you’re seated to what you are supposed to focus on. I sit in different ways, at different parts of the day, for different reasons.
For example, I try to start and end the day with progressive relaxation meditation. I check in on how I feel, physically and emotionally. If my thoughts are racing, or there’s something on my mind, I acknowledge it and deal with it. This helps me to create a baseline mood, for lack of a better explanation, that carries me through the day. At night, it helps me to understand how my day went, by checking in on how I’m doing.
When I start work in the morning, come back from breaks or lunch, or switch projects that I’m working on, I’ve begin doing a brief loving kindness meditation. This is meant to cultivate an attitude of compassion toward myself, the people I might be working with, and the things that are causing me stress. This helps me to put aside anger, frustration, and resentment. I explained it to someone as training myself to think like Mister Rogers. I can be tough, and firm, and ambitious, but I can do so in a way that stems from a place of kindness and love.
The popular term for this is mindfulness. I don’t like that word because it’s become so warped, distorted, and abused. It’s become a buzzword used by pretentious posers trying to sound enlightened. To be clear, I am not enlightened. I am suffering and struggling just like everyone else. What I don’t want is for people to be dismissive of this practice because they think it’s superficial and faddish.
There are two parts to this practice. The first is to genuinely be present. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Look people in the eye when you’re talk to them, and actually listen when they’re speaking. Set aside the distractions of screens and gadgets and engage with the world. The second is to do all of the above without judgment. See things for what they are, not how you’re interpreting them though the filters of your own biases, your ideology, and the opinion formed by your lived experiences.
This is meditation because it requires focus. You need to develop an attention span, and a different level of awareness. My current practice centers on eating, walking, and conversation. I want to pay attention to my food when I’m buying it, preparing it, and eating it. As I’m out and about, I want to be more aware of my surroundings and appreciate all of the tiny details of life that so many of us miss. When I’m with other people, I want to be fully engaged rather than trying to incorporate them into some futile (and disrespectful) exercise in multitasking.
At some point I’d like to write more about journaling as a meditative practice. I set aside time in the morning to contemplate what needs to be done. The items on my to-do list are evaluated as to whether they’re worth doing or just busy work. I consider how I feel about each task, why makes me exited or frightened, happy or bored. In the evening I reflect on what I accomplished. I check in on how I feel physically and emotionally.
This helps me to focus my time and energy on the things that matter. It raises my awareness of things I might not have consciously realized. By having a better understanding of my own thoughts and feeling about my work, I can make meaningful changes. Sometimes it’s just a matter of acknowledging things that I don’t want to talk about, or am uncomfortable with.
Journaling as a meditation practice is admittedly the one that I’m still figuring out. I know that there is benefit in doing it, but I don’t have a specific methodology down yet. The best I can do at the moment is to do it consistently, and allow the patterns to form organically. Recently it’s been taking the form of a shorthand conversation with myself, where I’m trying to be present with myself and listen.